Friday, July 21, 2006

Answers to questions about the situation in Oaxaca, Mexico

A typical question that I have been receiving in comments and by email:
Mark, Is anything in the Zocalo open? Any of the resturants or stores? Is it safe at all to visit the Zocalo?
Virtually nothing is open on the Zócalo worth visiting. The big hotel and restaraunt all along the north side, the Marquís del Valle, have been gutted of anything of value and the teachers smashed a city bus into the hotel's front.

You can get to the zócalo but there is nothing to see once you get there. The teachers have tents and tarps spread out from the cathedral's esplanade all the way to the two big markets south of the zócalo. Their tarpaulins effectively block your view of anything past 10 feet. You cannot even admire the new paving stones as they are covered by tents, sleeping bags, cots and trash.

You must pass through the teachers' blockades, both going and coming, one block away from the zócalo on all sides. You will have to open any packages or backpacks that you are carrying for inspection. You may have to show them ID. They are doing this just to harass and intimidate. Ordinary looking Mexicans pass with no trouble but white folks, Gringos and anyone who looks like a "rich" Mexican will be stopped and made to perform a little dog and pony show so that the teachers can demonstrate their control of the streets and their power over, well, whomever.

Macedonio Alcalá is pretty much a disaster area also. Because of the closure of Llano park (on the tourist maps it's identified as Parque Benito Juárez or Parque Llano Benito Juárez), the big tianguis (open air market) which is usually installed there has been stuck into Alcalá north of Santo Domingo. When this market operates in the Llano it is usually quite clean and neat and is worth a visit. Not now. For whatever reasons, the city has not been able to service the market and it is really nasty. Trash, garbage and bad smells. It's a real shame but the booth proprietors could keep it cleaner if they wanted to.

One thing about this culture that is maddening is that they will scrupulously clean the 1m x 3m area directly in front of their particular booth or display but studiously ignore a maloderous pile sitting directly beside their booth because that's someone else's responsibility. As a consequence, it should be avoided. It's dirty. I have never seen Macedonio Alcalá looking and smelling this badly.

About 2/3rds of the block directly in front of Santo Domingo is clear. The next block in front of the U.S. Consulate Agency is clear except for the anti-American signs plastered on the walls. I think that's where Mayordomo is. I've only walked down that promenade about 10,000 times and visited Mayordomo a dozen times or more, but I'm not sure it's on that block. Familiarity breeds contempt, I guess.

The next two blocks to the south -- towards the zócalo -- have cars and trucks parked bumper-to-bumper on both sides of the promenade where no vehicles are supposed to be. It ruins the rustic, colonial setting. At this point you are one block away from the zócalo and up against the teachers' blockades. They have strung sheets of galvanized metal across the streets for barricades and there are 6-12 men armed with clubs, bricks and paving stones waiting to harrass you if you go that far and try to pass.

Let's back up a bit. On another promenade directly on the south side of Santo Domingo the state has set up the big tents for all the indigenous artisans to sell their crafts. This is a nice market to visit but it will bring a tear to think of what should have been. These poor people have carried their wares for hundreds of miles in some cases to sell them during the Guelaguetza. There are few customers this year. However, if you come here, that is where you must go. Just pass by Santo Domingo and look left or to the east; you can't miss it. If you buy anything here, please buy it from these people. Also, on the next block there is yet another promenade running east-west where the artists gather to sell their artwork. They are there as usual. Buy something from them if you can.

Is it safe to visit? I'll answer that with this analogy. Is it safe to visit downtown Detroit? I've been down there, at night and on foot, a dozen times or more. Usually I drive in to Greektown and park directly across the street from the People Mover station -- Bricktown, I think. I take the People Mover to Joe Louis Arena and watch the Wings beat the crap out of some hapless group of skaters that just thought they had a hockey team when they arrived at the Joe. Then I take the train back to Greektown for dinner -- Oompah! (my best Greek) -- retrieve my car and drive home. Have I ever had a problem? No. Is it safe? No.

You pays your money and you takes your chances.

Please visit the Pale Horse Galleries online store
for art, gifts and collectables -- all hand made
by Mexican indigenous artists.

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